Den Dikken – Dependency and directionality

Dependency and directionality

It is widely taken for granted in generative syntactic theorising that
tree structures are built from the bottom (i.e., the lexical core) up to
the top (the functional periphery). Explicit argumentation for this
standard approach is sparse and typically not very well known. Chomsky’s
original argument was based on the cycle. The discussion of this argument
will lead us to a syntax of the transitive v–VP in which precisely the
kinds of clausal recursion constructions for which Chomsky’s (1957)
analysis had postulated a non-cyclic derivation supply us with an argument
for a top-down syntax. Clausal recursion constructions also give us an
important clue in deciphering the complex locality constraints imposed on
syntactic dependencies. Agreement relations and filler–gap dependencies
can only go beyond the boundaries of a subordinate clause if that clause
serves as a goal in an Agree relationship with a c-commanding probe. This
finding leads us back to Chomsky’s (1986) algorithmic approach to the
computation of absolute islands for syntactic dependencies, updated to an
Agree-based definition of opaque domains that works optimally in a
top-down system. For the other type of interference with long-distance
dependencies (‘intervention effects’), an account is put in place that
makes them fall out directly from the way in which filler-gap dependencies
are constructed in a top-down grammar, via a system employing uploading,
downloading, and the possibility (specific to theta-role bearing fillers)
of re-uploading onto the stack of an intervener. The inherent cost of
re-uploading and the fact that this operation is by its nature the
privilege of argumental fillers provides a simple perspective on
subjacency as well as the argument/non-argument distinction encoded by
Chomsky’s (1981) Empty Category Principle. Alongside direct and
re-uploading dependencies, Universal Grammar also presents us with a
variety of other ways in which to link an operator in an Ā-position in the
left periphery of a clause to a gap inside a lower clause. Some of these
strategies exploit prolepsis, which is a natural phenomenon in a syntactic
model that constructs its trees from the top down. A special spotlight is
shone at the end of the course on the challenges brought by the subject —
the most studied but at the same time least understood grammatical
function. The top-down approach to syntactic structure building is capable
of integrating the requirement that clauses have a structural subject (the
EPP of Chomsky 1981), the restricted distribution of traces in subject
positions (covered since Chomsky 1981 by the ECP), and the Case Filter in
the form of an overarching principle governing the licensing of
specifiers. The distribution of PRO (in both A- and Ā-positions) is also
folded into this picture, via a constraint barring it from licensed
specifier positions.

[This course is based on a book manuscript by the same title, which will
be made available to the participants.]